Gratitude

The video­tape begins with a high-angle cam­era shot of a beefy mid­dle-aged man secur­ing a bike to the roof of a blue hatch­back parked on the curb of a sub­ur­ban street. He fin­ish­es up and walks around to the rear of the car. A teenage girl car­ry­ing a laun­dry bas­ket stuffed with clothes and a ten­nis rack­et meets him there, slides the bas­ket into the car, and clos­es its back door.

The cam­era shifts to eye-lev­el as they face each other.

Wow. Col­lege already,” he says.

Yeah,” she says. They look at each oth­er uncom­fort­ably. “We got­ta go,” she says.

She gets in the car. It pulls away, then stops abrupt­ly. She jumps out, runs back to him, and hugs him. While they hold each oth­er close, Celine Dion sings, “For all those times you stood by me/And all the truths you made me see.”

Because You Loved Me plays on as they sep­a­rate, and the girl walks slow­ly back to the car.

He calls out anx­ious­ly, “And remember—”

She turns, grin­ning and count­ing to three on her fin­gers, “Seat belt, dri­ve safe, call when I get there.”

They smile at each oth­er, both fight­ing back tears.

Well, bye,” he chokes out. “I love you.”

She walks back to him, and they embrace again. “I love you too, dad­dy,” she says softly.

They step back and look at each oth­er for a long moment. She walks back to the car, hes­i­tates, then faces him. “And thanks for . . . every­thing.” She climbs in the car. As it pulls away, she waves to him from the window.

Wip­ing tears away, he waves back.

I’ve seen that tape fifty times. I cry every time.

I relate to the beefy guy.

Josh

My son’s last night at home, we sat up watch­ing tele­vi­sion for an hour after Cindy and the girls went to bed. We didn’t say any­thing. We didn’t need words. We knew the next day he would take a big step through the por­tal pass­ing from child to man. I want­ed it for him, but I mourned the loss of my lit­tle boy.

I kept him up as late as I could with­out spoil­ing his next day, then took a deep breath, and stood. “Good night, Josh.”

Love you, dad.”

Love you, too, Josh,”

I lay awake half the night, remem­ber­ing the good times.

Pep­per­dine

The next morn­ing, we drove him to Pep­per­dine. The cam­pus sits on a moun­tain­side above Mal­ibu. His dor­mi­to­ry over­looked the base­ball sta­di­um, where he would play left field, and beyond that, the Pacif­ic Ocean, glis­ten­ing sil­ver in the morn­ing sun­light. We moved all his stuff into his room, stalled as long as we could, then hugged him, and left him sit­ting at his desk. When we walked across the court­yard, he called out from the win­dow, “Bye, dad.”

My heart broke.

It mend­ed, of course, as I watched him con­front chal­lenges, over­come set­backs, make life-long friends, and meet his future wife.

When the time came for our old­er daugh­ter to leave the nest, I thought I’d get through it eas­i­er. It was my sec­ond rodeo, after all.

I was wrong.

Devon

When Devon was a lit­tle girl, we had friends over for din­ner. We were talk­ing in the liv­ing room when she climbed up in my lap. Cindy had dolled her up in a frilly dress and put lit­tle red bows in her silky blonde hair. I was primp­ing her, mes­mer­ized by her, as always, when our friend smiled and said, “Looks like some­one has dad­dy wrapped around her lit­tle finger.”

And that was true.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at San­ta Cruz was tai­lor-made for Devon and she loved it when she toured the cam­pus, but when her last day at home final­ly arrived, she didn’t want to leave us. As we drove north toward the school, she cried.

I wracked my brain for some way to ease her pain about the sep­a­ra­tion. When we got there, she and I shared a qui­et moment alone. I told her there was an invis­i­ble string that ran from my heart to hers, like an elas­tic spi­der web that would stretch across any dis­tance. “It nev­er breaks. It lasts for­ev­er, and our feel­ings for each oth­er will always pulse through it.” I told her she had the same mag­i­cal con­nec­tion with Cindy, Chelsea, and Josh, and she would always be with us.

Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San­ta Cruz

She said it was a beau­ti­ful thought, and it seemed to help her.

But when we left her there, my beau­ti­ful thought didn’t work as well for me as it did for her. I broke down in the UCSC park­ing lot and choked back tears all the way home.

That wound healed, too. UCSC was a car­ing, nur­tur­ing envi­ron­ment. Devon found her pas­sion for art there and start­ed down a path to a hap­py suc­cess­ful life.

Chelsea

I retired before the baby of the fam­i­ly grad­u­at­ed from high school. Spend­ing more time at home, I watched all Chelsea’s swim meets and water polo match­es. We worked out togeth­er. She couldn’t stop laugh­ing when I col­lid­ed with a stop sign on one of our long runs, and my excru­ci­at­ing­ly painful, ill-con­ceived attempt to leap-frog a tall cement trash can pro­voked anoth­er hys­ter­i­cal fit.

When the time came to take her to col­lege, I thought I was ready because I was a hard­ened vet­er­an of two bruis­ing treks down that rough road.

But I wasn’t ready.

Cindy and I kept our com­po­sure when we moved her into the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona, hugged her, and said good­bye, but lat­er in the car, we cried.

Uni­ver­si­ty of Arizona

To avoid the lone­li­ness of our emp­ty nest, we start­ed trav­el­ing. Cindy and I had just checked into the Boar’s Head Inn in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, when the phone rang in our room. “Dad, this is Chelsea. The police are here. They read us our rights. They want our com­put­ers, but I won’t give them up. What do I do next?”

After Cindy picked me up off the floor, Chelsea filled me in on the details and I asked to speak to the offi­cer in charge. “I don’t even know why I’m talk­ing to you,” he said in an exas­per­at­ed, some­what intim­i­dat­ed voice. “Your daugh­ter has noth­ing to do with this.”

The police thought Chelsea’s room­mate was involved in a crim­i­nal con­spir­a­cy, but Chelsea didn’t believe it. She knew her roommate’s rights, and she was hold­ing the police at bay. In the end, it turned out Chelsea was right. The police had made a trag­ic mis­take, and her room­mate was innocent.

From there on, I knew I didn’t have to wor­ry about her. I was the proud father of a warrior-woman.

And the pain of my third and last heart-wound eased off.

Foun­da­tion for a Bet­ter Life, a non-prof­it for the pro­mo­tion of good val­ues, pro­duced the tape about the beefy guy and his teenage daugh­ter. At the end of it, after the girl thanks her dad, the narrator’s voice-over deliv­ers the tape’s mes­sage, “Grat­i­tude. Pass it on.”

I appre­ci­ate the mes­sage, but I’d revise the script slight­ly to show that grat­i­tude runs from the beefy guy to his lit­tle girl, too. I’d add these lines for him: “Thanks for all the good times, for your love, and for grow­ing up to become some­one I admire and respect. Thanks for . . . everything.”

 

Post Script: The lyrics of Because You Loved Me run both ways, too:

For all those times you stood by me
And all the truths you made me see
For all the joy you brought to my life
For every dream you made come true
For all the love I found in you
You’re the one who saw me through it all.

You were my strength when I was weak
You were my voice when I could­n’t speak
Because you loved me.